I’m reading a book I didn’t know existed until just a few days ago, when my sister Laurie sent it for my birthday. It’s a biography: Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, by Brent Phillips. Walters was an MGM director, but was involved in Broadway as well. His works ranged from the early 1930s to the mid 60s, and if you’re a fan of musicals, you’ve most likely seen and heard of the movies, plays, songs and actors he was involved with.
That’s certainly one reason why I’m finding this book so interesting–but there’s a second reason as well. When Chuck Walters lived on the beach in Malibu, he was my grandmother’s next door neighbor.
Grandma’s house was not the typical Malibu elegant-yet-beachy home. It was originally a shack used to change into swim suits when family and friends were visiting. At one point she had some additions made so she could actually live in the tiny house. When we visited from Ohio, we would stay there, although I honestly don’t remember how a family of five (and the owner and her dog) fit into a house that was slightly larger than my current living room.
I met Chuck on several occasions, but the most memorable was the summer of 1966. I had just graduated from high school, and was spending the entire summer in Malibu. I was aware that Chuck was a director, and the his most recent movies were The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Walk, Don’t Run. Other than that, I knew a really nice guy and great neighbor. As soon as I arrived, I was told that I could use his swimming pool–decorated with wonderful MGM lions!–any time I wanted.
And I did. It wasn’t unusual to meet friends of his when I visited the pool. I often suspected they might be famous people, but they were introduced by first name or nickname, and I was too shy to ask for details.
It was an amazing summer in so many ways–a movie (Don’t Make Waves) was being filmed on our beach, and I had a wonderful time watching how that was done, and meeting actors and stunt guys–but one of the things I remember most was having a terrific neighbor.